Will Dolly Parton Buy the Ill-Fated Ghost Town In the Sky?

ghost town in the sky in the background with dolly parton and a mic in the foreground (a collage)

A fan-led movement for Dolly Parton to buy Ghost Town in the Sky is brewing (photos by David Simpson & Carl Beust/shutterstock.com)

Fans are calling for their Appalachian queen, Dolly Parton, to save one of their favorite long-lost theme parks, Ghost Town in the Sky

In the mountains of North Carolina, there is a ghost town that used to be Ghost Town begging to be saved. In Maggie Valley, a mountain-top amusement park that used to be the rival of Dollywood is rotting away. So who can save it? Despite a certain April Fool’s Day post that posited Disney might be interested, there is an online effort afoot to get someone with a more local connection interested … Dolly Parton. 

In Maggie Valley, North Carolina the remnants of a wild-west-themed park that launched in 1961 are gathering dust. Once, one of the more popular destinations in the Smokies, Ghost Town in the Sky is now just that… a ghost town. But some hope Smoky Mountain theme park impresario Dolly Parton will step in and save the day.   

Ghost Town show
In this photo, Ghost Town actors perform a “shoot out” on Main Street during the park’s brief resurrection in 2007. Smoky Mountain News says that many of the old buildings will be rehabbed and become mixed-use retail/condos (photo submitted by Gary and Carol Cox circa 2007)

About Ghost Town in the Sky

Launched in 1961, Ghost Town was created to take advantage of the obsession with the Wild West of the late 50s and early 60s. Not coincidentally, Rebel Railroad – which would eventually become Dollywood – opened in Pigeon Forge the same year, riding the same wave. Ghost Town featured a double incline railway transporting passengers to the top of Buck Mountain. A two-seat chair lift was added later. 

At its peak, more than 620,000 people visited Ghost Town annually. The park was slow to adapt from its wild west mining town theming. In 1986 – the year Silver Dollar City became Dollywood – it debuted the Red Devil coaster. The park also offered a variety of carnival-style rides and a handful of old-west-themed shows. 

Located about an hour and a half from Dollywood, Ghost Town’s fortunes seemed to be the exact opposite of Dollywood’s. As Pigeon Forge Park grew in reputation, Maggie Valley Park sagged into a vicious cycle of underfunding that led to worse guest experiences. Those experiences led to less funding and the park could not pull out of the nosedive. Ghost Town closed in July 2002 when the chairlift broke, stranding passengers in the summer heat for two hours. 

It sat in a state of disrepair until August 2006, briefly reopening in May 2007 after a $38 million investment. The park barely reopened for the 2009 season and closed again for good at the end of the 2009 season. In the ensuing 15 years, several attempts have been made to resurrect the park but have proven unsuccessful. Problems in getting both people – and the necessary water – up the mountain loom large as do years of mistreatment and disrepair. 

dolly at wildwood grove
It is unlikely that Dolly Parton will be involved in a Ghost Town revival (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

Why people want Dolly involved

Still, the internet – home to dreamers – has hope. There have been ideas, suggestions, and pushes to get beloved Smoky Mountain icon and theme-park legend Dolly Parton involved. The thinking goes that Parton – with her available financing and connection with the area – might be interested in getting with her partners at Herschend Entertainment to resurrect the Ghost Town in the Sky. After all, Silver Dollar City was a struggling operation before Dolly became attached in 1986. In the 40 years since Dolly got on board, Dollywood has become one of the world’s best theme parks with great rides, food and entertainment.

And, the thinking goes, if Dolly had been from Maggie Valley instead of Pigeon Forge, it might have been Ghost Town that got the necessary jolt of Parton electricity. Heck, maybe it’s even time for a Dollywood 2 …

Abandoned Ghost Town Village in Maggie Valley
The entrance to the now-closed Ghost Town in the Sky (photo by Gregory Simpson/shutterstock.com)

Imagining a new Dolly-owned Ghost Town

Well, now we enter into the land of conjecture. We don’t know for sure what is salvageable at Ghost Town. Certainly, most of the rides and the buildings would need to be replaced. You would think it would retain some of its Wild West theming. But also lean more into the mountain culture which is native to the area. Speaking of natives, the park had an “Indian Village” that purported to give insight into the lives of the native peoples. Maybe a partnership with the Cherokee Nation could give something more of an authentic experience. The Cherokee are partnering with a French theme park company to bring an experience to Exit 407 in Kodak which will bring the experience of Cherokee soldiers from World War I to life.

Theoretically, by partnering with Dollywood and the Herschend-owned Silver Dollar City in Branson City, the parks could move some rides around – bringing newer rides to the existing park and some of the older rides to start populating Maggie Valley.

Ghost Town coaster
Many of the structures from Ghost Town in the Sky remain on the property but are falling into disrepair (photo submitted by Gary and Carol Cox)

Would it ever happen?

Probably not. But why? Well, mostly, price.

The logistics of operating a mountain-top theme park are significant. Even with a fully operating park, financing the logistics necessary to get people – and water – up the mountain is tough. Financially speaking, at this point, it would probably be cheaper to build a new park from scratch. It is costly to rehab the dilapidated facilities and rides. Dollywood has been expanding successfully at a consistent rate and they are adding Dollywood-owned and themed hotels on site. If Dollywood officials were to build a new park, it would make sense to have it on-site in Pigeon Forge. They need to fill those hotel rooms and offer a more comprehensive experience. Building a new facility 60 miles away just wouldn’t make as much sense. You’d have to think Dollywood would much prefer to add a second gate in Pigeon Forge. 

Of course, Dolly and the Herschends could get funding to do both. Everything they touch is gold. But the expansion in management, logistics and everything just would be daunting.

The truth is Ghost Town will probably remain just that… a ghost town. With each passing year, the likelihood of salvaging anything on top of the mountain in Maggie Valley gets smaller and smaller. Would Dolly Parton and her partners be willing to step in and save the day? Seems unlikely. 

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